The Cal State Bakersfield volleyball program certainly seems to have adopted the personality of coach Giovana Melo.
Known for her intense demeanor, Melo admits the word calm “is not a thing in my vocabulary,” and Roadrunner players tend to be cut from the same cloth.
“Every day in practice we fight until we can’t fight anymore,” fifth-year senior setter Sidney Wicks said. “Even off the court, when they give us team-related activities, we want to go and we want to get after it and we want to be the best at it.”
Melo has seen this hyper-competitive nature take form during weight-lifting competitions, scavenger hunts, and even some surprisingly tense battles of rock-paper-scissors.
Yet entering its final year in the Western Athletic Conference, a young Roadrunner squad is being asked to take on a demeanor that seems to run counter to the program’s personality. Two years removed from an NCAA Tournament appearance, CSUB is in a bit of a transition period entering 2019. After having four players record at least 200 kills a season ago, only one — Brooke Boiseau, who had 218 as a redshirt freshman — returns this fall.
CSUB is also looking to replace top server Desiree Sukhov (46 aces) and defender Krista Hernandez (553 digs), both of whom transferred in the offseason.
While confident her team — which was picked to finish sixth in a preseason WAC poll — will find its footing, Melo says this inexperienced group may need to tone it down a bit early in the year.
Melo, who mentioned her Roadrunner teams historically get out of the gates slow to start the season, expects it will again take time to put everything together this year. She added her young squad needs to keep a level head as it tries to find a groove.
“Because they’re so competitive, when they get to that point where (if) they’re not winning, we’re having to find that balance of ‘OK, we understand you want to win, but take a deep breath and let’s reset and recharge and go again,’” Melo said. “Because that anxiety of wanting to win sometimes takes over, we’re learning that this group needs to be a little bit calmer.”
And how is the notoriously fierce coach handling this change of approach?
“I’m learning as I go,” she said.
One area where the Roadrunners appear to be in good shape is passing. A holdover from the 2017 tournament team, Wicks returns after recording a team-best 772 assists last year. Sophomore Leisa Elisaia, who had 472 assists a season ago, is also back.
Aside from putting a strong cap on CSUB’s tenure in the WAC, players and coaches are also hoping to set the tone for a strong future in their next conference.
“We’re trying to leave a good mark in the WAC and kind of let teams in the Big West know that we’re coming,” Wicks said. “We want to leave this year remembered and we want to go in the Big West not overlooked.”
The Roadrunners, who will play their first nine contests on the road, open the season Friday with two matches at the Hornet Invitational at Sacramento State University. They play Nevada at 10 a.m. and Sacramento State at 7:30 p.m.